Fatal Tesla Autopilot Accident Raises Safety Concerns

Aug 10, 2016

Is more regulation needed over autonomous driving features?

On May 7, a Tesla Model S operating in its beta autopilot mode crashed into an 18 wheeler turning left in front of it in Williston, Florida. The car skidded under the truck, ripping its roof off, then plowed through two fences before crashing into a utility pole. Tragically, the 40-year-old driver from Ohio died in the accident. While the accident is under investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), many are questioning the safety of autonomous driving features.

Tesla’s Autopilot Feature

Several of Tesla’s vehicles now come equipped with an autopilot option. This feature must be turned on by the driver and, when activated, it uses a variety of sensors, cameras, and radars to steer the vehicle, adjust its speed, or change lanes, according to traffic conditions. Drivers are instructed to maintain control over the vehicle even in autopilot mode. In the case of the fatal Florida accident, it is believed the white side of the tractor trailer against the bright sky confused the vehicle and prevented it from stopping in time to avoid the crash.

Lack of Federal Standards for New Automotive Technologies

Technology in the automotive industry is rapidly expanding, as many automakers strive towards making their vehicles more autonomous. Currently, automakers are not required to obtain approval for new technology before rolling features out to the public. In fact, no federal regulations exist governing the creation and safety of autonomous driving features.

Tesla has publicly stated that its autopilot option is still in the beta phase, and purchasers of the vehicle are required to acknowledge this fact before using the option. However, after this horrific fatal accident, some lawmakers and safety organizations are questioning whether carmakers should be allowed to test their products on the American public.

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